Ucluelet...turn left at the junction most folks turn right at. The route from Port Alberni took us across the islands spine over a road that was built for motorcyclists. Even though the rain had set in it was still a pleasure, then we arrived at the aforementioned intersection. Turn right to the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve and Tofino, or left to Ucluelet. Just as many pass through Port Alberni on route for Tofino they also turn right at the intersection and leave Ucluelet behind on the map. We turned left.
Ucluelet doesn't have the same beaches as the Reserve, instead it has trails that hug gnarled coastline battered by big water. It's a rugged place with a rugged character. Yes, things are moving upscale but it's still a good half decade behind Tofino and for many that's a good thing. There is that surfer west coast vibe in town but it will never emulate Tofino as the beaches and waves differ in character.
Our first morning in town we rode down to the Amphitrite Point Lighthouse and walked the trail until Dominik found a good vantage point for another coastal scene. It was a magnificent spot and as the lighthouse bellowed through its foghorn and the waves crashed on rock Dominik painted another beautiful West Coast vista. Filming him painting there made me take note of the ocean and its power and I began to understand its beauty at this particular spot. Immediately around us there were no safe spots to enter the water, it was simply one of those places that forces you to admire from a distance as opposed to wading in. Watching the waves as they rolled in and were sucked back out to sea was mesmerizing. It truly is a contemplative place, a place to mull thoughts and acknowledge nature in its rawest form.
After a quick bite it was off to the Ucluelet Aquarium where we met Carly and Emily for a tour of the relatively new facility. Built next to the harbour the aquarium reflects Ucluelets progressive nature and echoes its ecological sympathies with a 'catch and release' program. I'd never heard of such a thing and the Ucluelet Aquarium is one of the first such aquariums to follow this principal. In short, every species in the aquarium is sourced from local waters and depending on the species it is released back into those waters within a certain time frame. Some of the critters might only stay a couple of weeks while others may spend the season but in the end all are returned to the big blue at the end of the season. I had to smile when Carly explained that some were sourced as far way as Bamfield...a whopping 30 kms away as the crow flies.
We spent a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon at the aquarium and marveled at how such a place could be so educational and fun at the same time. It definitely proved that the kid in all of us never dies. We'd like to thank Carly and Emily for sharing their time and passion with us, they were a blast to be around and it's obvious that with professionals like themselves running the show that not only would the temporary residents be well cared for, but an important awareness of those same creatures and their habitats would be shared with the public which is always necessary for any long term ecological preservation policies to be implemented.
Thank you Carly and Emily.
I've already touched on the surfer vibe that 'kind of' permeates Ucluelet, but maybe it's more just a west coast thing, no, scratch that, it's a Ucluelet thing. In every town vibes emanate from many sources, stickers on car bumpers, funky signage, local building materials, the way people dress, but perhaps the strongest emitter of unique local vibes are the stores that line main street. Storefronts are like DNA, they tell you the kind of place you're visiting before you've had a chance to get to the counter and order a cup of coffee. Ucluelet had a funky vibe, and the stores echoed it and during my 'I Love Ucluelet' sticker hunt I stumbled upon a treasure; Pina.
I'd been told by Carly and Emily at the aquarium that I could get a Ucluelet sticker at the Pina shop, so off I went, and what a cool surprise awaited me. As soon as I saw the printers behind the counter I started asking questions and Mary and Lindsey filled me in. Everything was done in-house, which is cool to start with, but when you factor in the artwork of the owner, Angie Roussin, that adorned every item sold, I was entranced. Mary and Lindsey showed me a couple of designs and printed one off while I was there, a 'Hipster Bear!' The Hipster Bear was a third of a series, the other thirds belonging to the 'Hipster Eagle,' and the 'Hipster Sea Lion.' I loved it. Playful, artistic and colourful, the shop was a perfect mirror to the town of Uclulet, or 'Ukee,' as my sticker proudly proclaimed.
With the day done we headed back to the Canadian Princess Fishing Lodge for a good nights rest. The lodge was on the harbour and our deck door opened onto a path that led to the Canadian Princess ship moored not a 100' away. The Princess has an interesting past and when it was still the William J. Stewart, a hydrographic vessel based out of Victoria, she had charted many of the waters off the British Columbian coast. Her last job ended in 1975 after which she was bought by the Oak Bay Marine Group and relocated to Ucluelet as the centre for their fishing lodge. She is a beautiful vessel and luckily we snagged a tour on-board which was akin to walking through a time portal, you should see the size of the exposed con rods in the engine room, monsters! For our great accommodation at the Canadian Princess Fishing Lodge we'd like to thank the Oak Bay Marine Group and in particular Mike Watling for putting up with us a second time! Yes, that's right, they already put us up at the Painter's Lodge in Campbell River. Very gracious indeed.
Thanks again Mike!